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Intelligence Estimate Warns Iraq Could Get Worse

A new U.S. intelligence estimate says that the chaotic situation in Iraq could deteriorate further unless the warring sectarian parties compromise. But it says that the current political climate makes such reconciliation difficult. VOA correspondent Gary Thomas reports from Washington.

A new U.S. intelligence estimate says the security situation in Iraq will continue to deteriorate in the next 12 to 18 months unless the warring factions compromise. But it also says that even if violence does recede in that period, animosities between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslim groups make reconciliation difficult for Iraqi political leaders.

The report says Iraqi forces will be "hard-pressed" to execute increased responsibilities for security, particularly in reining in Shi'ite militias.

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) is the first such report on Iraq in two and one-half years. An NIE represents the highest collective judgment of the 16 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community. A summary of the estimate's key judgments was made public Friday.

The release of portions of the estimate came amid growing political debate in Congress over President Bush's plan to send an additional 21,000 troops to Iraq in an effort to stabilize the situation.

The NIE warns of a more rapid deterioration of security if U.S. forces were suddenly pulled out of Iraq. The public summary makes no judgment of the possible effect of a U.S. troop increase in Iraq.

General Peter Pace, chairman of the U.S. military Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the intelligence estimate was used in the deliberations on the Bush Administration's new Iraq policy.

"Their ideas that are codified in the National Intelligence Estimate that was released today, classified release today, were very much part of the dialogue that led to the decisions," he noted.

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said the picture painted in the estimate is accurate, but that the Bush Administration plan for Iraq is the only viable option to stabilize the country. He says that will be a tough task, but the plan can succeed.

"Even if we get the violence down, the NIE says the [Iraqi] forces will be hard-pressed to come forward with reconciliation," he noted. "We agree with that, but we think there's no alternative but to press them hard to do that reconciliation.

The NIE says the situation has become so complicated in Iraq, with multiple warring sectarian factions, attacks on U.S. troops, and ordinary criminality, that the term civil war is inadequate to describe what is taking place there.

The intelligence estimate says Iranian support for armed Shi'ite militias has clearly intensified the conflict. But the NIE judges that internal sectarian animosities are fueling the violence and threatening stability more than the involvement of Iran and Syria.